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Coordinated Group Decision Making
by wwagar
19 March 2002 00:15 UTC
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Dear List,

        With respect to the recent thread on how a communist society might
function without replacing the horrors of capitalism by the horrors of
state capitalism, I offer the following post, an article recently
submitted for publication in THE FUTURIST by a retired physicist, Eduard
Prugovecki.  I have my doubts about some of it, but I think it's important
that people who reject capitalism (however defined) not only analyze its
modus operandi and its irremediable contradictions, but also give serious
thought to what should come next.  Marx and Engels recoiled from "utopian"
socialism for good reason.  Dreaming without analysis equals fantasy.  That
was then.  This is now.  We have analyzed capitalism to death, to the point
where we are not even sure that "it" exists.  But by and large we have stopped
dreaming.  Not Prugovecki.



                - A sociological model for future democracies -

                              By Eduard Prugovecki

ABSTRACT. As illustrated in the recently published utopian/dystopian novel
"Memoirs of the Future," developments in communication technology make new
forms of participatory democracy feasible on the local as well as the
national level. By adapting the computer programs in use nowdays in
securely carrying out financial transactions, Internet can be employed in
implementing grass-roots forms of democracy which avoid the abuses of the
electoral process so much in evidence in recent times. The close links of
these ideas with those of freedom and egality are discussed.

THE MARCH-APRIL 2002 ISSUE of The Futurist was largely devoted to utopian
        In the editorial article "Being Realistic About Utopia," its
author, Cynthia G. Wagner, made the following pertinent observations:
"Utopia has a bad reputation. People thinking utopian thoughts are branded
as unrealistic dreamers, and people trying to make utopias work are labeled
totalitarians (sometimes justifiably)."
        These statements represent a sad comment on the contemporary North
American perceptions of the sociological role of utopias and utopian
        As is well-known, the term "utopia" (meaning "nowhere" in Greek)
dates back to Thomas More's "Utopia." This novel, first published in Latin
in 1516, was largely inspired by Plato's "Republic," which represented the
earliest known instance of utopian thinking.
        Coming from a lord chancellor of England, "Utopia" was a remarkable
literary work, given the fact that it was implicitly critical of the
unrestrained rise of economic individualism. This was a phenomenon
heralding the emergence of capitalism, which at that time had brought much
misery to the dispossessed in the medieval villages of fifteenth century
England. Hence, "Utopia" was not regarded by More's contemporaries as the
output of an "unrealistic dreamer"; rather, it was read eagerly throughout
Europe, and inspired many subsequent "utopian" ideas and movements. Some of
these movements even led to "practical" results in the form of experimental
utopian communities which, whatever their failings, were certainly not
        As a person born and raised in Europe, I was struck when I came in
the early 1960s to the United States by the fact that such dystopian novels
as Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" and George Orwell's "Nineteen
Eighty-Four" were much better known than such utopian novels as Edward
Bellamy's "Looking Backward" and B. F. Skinner's "Walden Two"--although
Bellamy's 1888 novel enjoyed enormous popularity towards the end of the
nineteenth century, and Skinner's 1948 book eventually inspired utopian
communities that survive to this very day. I soon realized, however, that
the idea of Utopia was yet another victim of the Cold War, since admittedly
most utopian literature, including More's "Utopia," advocated some form of
economic egalitarianism.
        But, contrary to simplistic preconceptions, economic egalitarianism
is fully compatible with the ideas of freedom and democracy which are
deemed to be the cornerstone of Western democracies. In fact, if humanely
and judiciously implemented, it provides a fertile soil in which both
freedom and democracy can prosper to their fullest extent.
        Indeed, as first pointed out by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his "The
Social Contract" published in 1762, in any civilized society there cannot
be absolute freedom for any individual, since no member of such a society
can be allowed to cause harm with impunity to its other members. Rather,
freedom in a social context is a matter of social equilibrium: the more
civilized and progressive a society is, the more freedom an individual can
enjoy as long as that individual's exercise of freedom does not deprive
other individuals of their freedoms. As implicit in the work of many
utopians, that includes the freedom to enjoy a fair share of the material
benefits offered by that society. In particular, this entails the freedom
from economic exploitation. Thus, the greater the disparity between the
rich and the poor in a given society, the more curtailed is the freedom of
the poor to enjoy the opportunities offered by that society. Viewed from
this perspective, utopian communities actually optimize the amount of
freedom enjoyed by all their members, by providing everybody with a fair
share of economic opportunities and rewards in addition to civil and
personal freedoms.
        What many utopians as well as other enlightened individuals
intuitively understand is that maximizing the freedoms of the rich and the
powerful to exercise their economic privileges implies minimizing the
freedoms of the poor and the powerless. Thus, since the time of
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, it has been realized more and more that the idea of
freedom is inextricably intertwined with that of social justice. In fact,
the French "Declaration of the Rights of Man" of August 27, 1789 was based
on the American declaration of 1776 and laid down the "natural" right of
every citizen to liberty, equality, and security. The later massacres and
other excesses of the French revolution were inexcusable, but its professed
ideal of "libert=E9, =E9galit=E9, fraternit=E9" is a legacy that has to be
        These observations are also pertinent to the historically evolving
notion of democracy. In the universally acknowledged cradle of democracy,
namely ancient Athens, women and slaves did not have the right to vote.
Thus, ancient Athens was not a democracy by contemporary standards. But
nowadays one can ask the question: Is a country in which political freedom
is restricted to choosing between two or more national parties representing
the same basic political and economic interests a true democracy? Even more
fundamentally: Is representative democracy the best form of democracy that
mankind can hope for at the present stage in its economic and technological
        Witnessing the civil rights movement, the war in Vietnam, and many
other similar phenomena which vividly demonstrated how unresponsive elected
official can be to the goals and desires of their constituents made me
wonder whether mankind has not reached a stage of technological progress in
which traditional forms of representative democracy are virtually as
outdated as they are ineffective. After giving the matter considerable
thought, I came to the conclusion that genuine forms of participatory
democracy might be eventually implementable on a national level in advanced
countries due to a foreseeable progress in mass communications and computer
        In 1974, I presented my ideas in the context of a utopian/dystopian
novel entitled "Memoirs of the Future." In it two totally different
countries are juxtaposed: Terra and FWF. Both incorporate features which
represent extrapolations, in two very distinct directions, of present-day
social, political, technological and cultural trends.
        In Terra a gigantic complex of interrelated computers, called
Coordinating Computer Complex or CCC, is used by the Terrans for
coordinating the activities of a society in which all forms of government
have vanished, having been replaced by grass roots forms of participatory
democracy. These manifestations of participatory democracy are embodied in
various protocols for "coordinated group decision making," or "cogdem." Due
to the possibilities afforded by CCC as a source of technological means for
instantaneous visual, verbal and written communication between all members
of any Terran community--from local neighborhoods to the entire
country--any member of such a community can come forward with innovative
ideas that initiate cogdem protocols. Any such proposal is then deliberated
according to the cogdem rules devised by Terran mathematical sociologists,
meant to eliminate redundancy and enhance decision-making efficiency. Once
a mini-max point in the debate is reached, beyond which further discussion
would become wasteful and counter-productive, the appropriate programs of
CCC automatically submit the final choice between the proposed alternatives
to a voting procedure involving all those concerned. The voting can be
carried out virtually instantaneously by each individual concerned due to
the advanced computer technology available to every Terran in his or her
home and workplace.
        Thus, the need for any political leaders--or, for that matter, of
any leaders at all--is effectively nullified. Instead, legislative and
executive initiatives are at everybody's disposal, and are governed by a
"code of social decency," inculcated into Terrans as part of their
educational  process. As with the rules of "civilized behavior" in
contemporary countries, the rules of this code make for social harmony in
Terra, but at a socially much deeper level. The resulting workings of the
system are not the expression of a person, class, or special interest
group, but of the popular will of all Terrans. By directly participating in
all important decisions that affect their own lives, Terrans have a
personal stake in the welfare of all their communities--from local
neighborhoods to the global level involving all of Terra.
        By contrast, in FWF, a counterpart of CCC is used by those in power
to monitor and control all working individuals through computer-integrated
bank accounts, centralized employment records and other bureaucratic
devices, coordinated by means of social security numbers assigned to each
citizen from the moment of birth. This reflects a scenario anticipated by
Aldous Huxley in the Foreword of the 1963 edition of his "Brave New World,"
where he stated that "it is probable that all the world's governments will
become completely totalitarian." Thus, in FWF the epitome of a totalitarian
corporate state has been achieved: the rich and powerful govern a docile
populace conditioned by subliminal techniques, which have originated in the
present era, to react with Pavlovian predictability to the subliminal cues
of their masters. The same technology that in Terra is liberating, in FWF
is surreptitiously enslaving.
        Due to this dichotomy, it might have been a bit difficult to accuse
me even in 1974 of indulging in the kind of "unrealistic dreams" of which
utopians are nowadays presumed to be a priori guilty. However, at the time
I wrote the novel there was no Internet, so that I could indeed be accused
of such a misdemeanor with respect to the postulated technology.
        My few colleagues at the University of Toronto who were interested
in what was called at that time "futurology," and who were kind enough to
take a look at my novel, did not proffer, however, any such accusations. On
the other hand, the several publishers to whom I sent the manuscript
pointed out that utopian novels were no longer appealing to the North
American public, and that therefore they were not interested in publishing
my novel. Clearly, Utopia had already acquired a bad reputation!
        Preoccupied with a difficult research program in quantum physics, I
shoved the manuscript of "Memoirs of the Future" into a drawer. There it
remained untouched until after my retirement, when I rediscovered it prior
to my permanent move to Mexico. I subsequently updated it during the year
2000 by emphasizing its relevance to Internet and other technical
developments that had taken place in the intervening quarter of a century.
The revised version was finally published in November 2001 by Cross
Cultural Publications of Notre Dame, Indiana.
        What had happened in that interim quarter-century was that Internet
had become an everyday fact of life in the United States and other advanced
countries. Hence, the idea of "cogdem" is nowadays technically
implementable, so that, in principle, the citizens of democracies no longer
have to rely on elected politicians to make and implement their decisions
for them--politicians who, once in power, can systematically disregard the
promises they made during their election campaigns. Furthermore, with
present-day technology there is no longer any need even for polls based on
small samples which, as illustrated in Arianna Huffington's most recent
book, provocatively entitled "How to Overthrow the Government," are of
necessity biased. With the Internet being widely accessible, ordinary
citizens have at their disposal the technological means to directly express
their preferences to the community at large. Mathematical sociology in
combination with computer science and programming can help to make this
process quick and efficient.
        In fact, each time we use the Internet to carry out financial
transactions we employ computer routines that are secure and can be equally
well used to express our individual will with regard to key political
issues--if only we were given the chance. Instead, in some of the present
day democracies we are much too often confronted with political scandals
originating from manipulations of electoral procedures, in the course of
which the very limited political rights of common citizens are egregiously
trampled upon.
        Obviously disillusioned with the present political process and the
offered alternatives at election time, the majority of the American
electorate did not even bother to vote during several recent national
elections. As a matter of fact, according to the Committee for the Study of
the American Electorate, since the 1960s national voter participation in
the United States has declined by 25%. Therefore, perhaps it is time to
search for new ways to express the will of that electorate.
        Coordinated-group-decision-making takes advantage of the potential
available in present day technology and reflects a mode of "utopian
thinking" that is indubitably democratic rather than totalitarian. Some of
its aspects could already be implemented at various levels of the
contemporary democratic electoral process.
        This shows that "utopian thinking" is not the prerogative of
"unrealistic dreamers," but that it can lead to realizable sociological
models for future social organizations. In fact, viewed from this
perspective, "utopian thinking" is a special case of the kind of thinking
that is common to all endeavors in the exact sciences: one builds
theoretical models, and then tests them empirically to check on how well
they conform to the laws of nature. In a fundamental sense, this remains
true in the social sciences: by constructing models of social behavior and
organization one can achieve a better understanding of mankind's future
potential. It is left to the realities of life in actual social settings to
test the extent to which such models are realizable at a given stage in
human evolution.

EDUARD PRUGOVECKI is Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto. He
earned his Ph.D. in mathematical physics from Princeton University. While
academically active at the University of Toronto he published four
monographs and a host of research articles in quantum physics. At the
beginning of his tenure at that university he joined a futurological club,
and subsequently maintained a keen interest in utopian ideas and
literature. After his retirement from academic life he published "Memoirs
of the Future: A Futuristic Novel" (Cross Cultural Publications, Notre
Dame, 2001 - available from www.amazon.com, www.bn.com,
www.allbookstores.com and www.crossculturalpub.com by searching under
"Prugovecki."). Its sequel "Dawn of the New Man: A Futuristic Novel of
Social Change" is due to appear in print very soon. Dr. Prugovecki at
present lives in Chapala, Mexico and can be reached at

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